Betrayal at House on the Hill – Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi cooperative horror board game by Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast.  The players begin by exploring a modular haunted house, hoping to gain abilities and items to increase their chance of survival. Some of the room tiles hold Omens, powerful items and followers that also have a chance at triggering the haunting.  The special thing about Betrayal is that there are fifty hauntings to trigger, all with their own characters and mechanics.  After about a dozen plays, I haven’t experienced the same game twice.

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Pretty?
The artwork is fairly run of the mill.  The house tiles sit together nicely and serve their function, the cards are designed okay, but are mostly text based and the character portraits are quite rough.  None of this gets in the way of the game play, but if I was to change one thing it would be the characters.  The models don’t look good at all and, while they come painted, I’d rather the option to paint them myself.

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Fair?
It is a pretty diverse cast with three male and three female characters, half of which are persons of color. At least half of the characters (it’s hard to tell) seem white to me, which really betrays a feeling of that being the default.  Each character has two versions with different backgrounds and stats. The gender representation is outdated, with one woman in a dress and the other in shorts and crop top. The little girl is also in a dress, but the giant bow on her head tips it over into comical gender coding.

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There are also problems with the roles the character’s play.  The Scientist is an old man, the spiritualist, a middle aged woman of color, for example.  There are one or two little nods to breaking stereotypes, like the nine year old girl who’s into medicine, but it’s barely even lip service to real equality.  At best the characters are cliche, at worse, they’re reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

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Fun?
Despite the weak art design and dodgy stereotypes, for a few weeks, Betrayal was all I wanted to play.  I love working in little role plays to figure out why we’re there and being really invested in a character that’s betrayed.  But even without the added flavor, there’s plenty to keep us entertained.

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The first half of the game involves exploring the house, and there’s always the question as to whether it’s best to stick together or strike out on your own.  Each time you enter a room, there’s a chance that the new tile will hold an omen.  At this stage you roll six dice and have to roll under the number of omens in play.  So the haunting is more and more likely to happen the longer the exploration lasts, but with dice that go from zero to two, you could trigger one right away.

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Room and omen combinations determines which of the fifty scenarios play out from here on. Most of the time, that involves a betrayal.  We did get one scenario with no traitors, but don’t think for a second that you’re safe.  We basically turned on each other in a heart beat…

With alien diseases, floods, mad scientists and poltergeists, the scenarios truly feel different from game to game, so be prepared for a lot of re-playability.

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The rules require a lot of reading and many situations are contextual.  When the haunting starts, there’s a new, sometimes overriding set of rules, which can slow the game down somewhat.  This makes it really hard to play the game with a new player or two, especially if they turn out to be the traitor.  Younger players or anyone with reading difficulties would be at a massive disadvantage.

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Winning the game is largely based on luck, so I’d class this game as pretty casual.  If that’s what you’re after and you’re okay with games being relatively short, Betrayal is worth picking up.  If you tend to get into the role play, even better.

– Siobhan

SiobhanSiobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films, enjoys anime, writing and crafts.

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